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Becoming One With Nature: Finding A Better Final Resting Place With Sandy Gibson Of Better Place Forests

 

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Thinking about death is not an everyday task one just ticks off his list. But as adults, we can’t help but think and plan about the insurance of security at the end of our days. You might have heard about being buried in a tree egg, or perhaps even composted or buried at sea. But how realistic are these final resting place options at this point in time? Are there more sustainable and regenerative solutions for this? Corinna Bellizzi welcomes Sandy Gibson as they take on a different road and explore one of life’s inevitable moments. Listen in as they discuss how you can find a better, greener final resting place with Better Place Forests.

About Sandy Gibson

Sandy Gibson is the Founder of Better Place Forests, America’s first conservation memorial forest. Instead of graves, Better Place Forests offers a sustainable alternative to cemeteries for families who choose cremation. 

Website Links

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sandygibsonca

https://www.betterplaceforests.com/

https://www.instagram.com/betterplaceforests/

https://www.facebook.com/betterplaceforests/

https://twitter.com/bpf_community

Show Notes:

00:02:34 – Why It’s Difficult To Innovate

00:05:05 – Sustainable Alternative To Traditional Cemeteries

00:07:08 – Why Do Cemeteries Exist?

00:08:10 – An Entire Ecosystem

00:09:39 – Proximity And Community

00:12:38 – Taboo Around Cemeteries

00:15:42 – The End Of Your Story

00:17:10 – Understanding Embalming

00:22:21 – Better Ways Of Doing Cremation

00:27:33 – Everything Around Death

00:28:13 – Better Place Forests

00:30:05 – View Of Cemeteries

00:30:52 – Looking At Externalities

00:33:49 – Positive Side Effect

00:36:20 – Change Is Always With Us

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Becoming One With Nature: Finding A Better Final Resting Place With Sandy Gibson Of Better Place Forests

In this episode, we are going on a different trip as we explore one of the inevitable moments of life, which is simply its end. You might have heard about being buried in a tree egg or perhaps even composted or buried at sea. How realistic are these options at this point in time? Do sustainable or regenerative solutions really exist?

What does your end-of-life planning look like? What did it look like for your parents or grandparents? Were they buried in a cemetery or a mausoleum? Were they embalmed with chemicals or laid to rest in a shroud? Were they cremated? Are any of these practices sustainable? To tease out the truth from reality and fact from science fiction, I am joined by Sandy Gibson, Founder of Better Place Forests, America’s first conservation memorial forest. Sandy, welcome to the show.

Corinna, thank you so much for including me.

I have been wanting to have this conversation for some time now, especially as I saw all these examples throughout social media of people essentially being buried in an egg with a tree growing out of it. I wanted you to talk about some of what the reality is. What drew you into this particular line of business? What is real? Where are we now? How are you working to solve these problems?

Starting with the second question about what is real, one of the most interesting things about this industry is Capsula Mundi. It’s the design idea you are talking about. They invented that idea in 2003 or 2004 and it has never been created. I can’t imagine an industry like this where it would be the equivalent of talking about Tesla if Tesla was still just a prototype concept. It had never been moved forward.

It is something about being a tree in that image that is so critical, and it speaks to the fact that people want something very different from what is available nowadays. There are a lot of reasons why it is very difficult to innovate. You are dealing with real estate and permitting. Try getting a cemetery permit is an interesting experience.

You also have to explore the area from an archaeological perspective first to ensure that it wasn’t a burial ground. There is some sampling and things that need to be done at a baseline level to even begin that process. You have to prove something along the lines if there are chemicals that are going to leach into the ground, how are you sure they are not going to hit the water table? There are all these things that you have to do.

There is so much there. We do not need to go into the complexity of permitting, but I can put it this way. Getting real estate projects permitted is exceptionally difficult in modern America. When you were on a different project like a conservation memorial forest, it is even more difficult. It is always political and contentious.

Nothing in life is sure.

We create beautiful conservation areas where we only spread ashes, which are inert to the environment. Those are going to break down over time and become nutrients like calcium and phosphorus and potassium, so there is no issue of leaking of chemicals or anything like that. Even with that, we still have an entire team dedicated to real estate permits. It can take eighteen months or many years to get a full permit. It is very complicated. There are a lot of reasons.

If you look at Capsula Mundi on why it does not exist in existing cemeteries, most people are unaware of how expensive that land is and how much concrete is already in most cemeteries. Putting a tree in an existing cemetery is exceptionally difficult. You probably need to buy ten contiguous plots. There are very few cemeteries with that space still available. If you could find it in an urban area, I would be very shocked if you could buy those ten contiguous plots for less than $500,000 and more likely, a few million. It is an area that no one thinks about. There is very little cemetery space, so it gets very expensive when you are looking for something very unique and rare.

That is why I asked the question the way I did because I even thought at one point that this would be an interesting way to plan for my dad. I know he cares about the environment. He does not want to be embalmed. He is thinking about other ways to be processed at his end of life. I was like, “What is this egg thing? How do we do this?” I then started to think about how much space would be required because a tree itself can’t be planted tightly in knit rows. What you are doing is using what would be an existing forest.

I should explain what we do and then we can get into it. Better Place Forests were the first sustainable alternative to traditional cemeteries and funerals. What I mean by that is that instead of a grave and a tombstone in a burial in a cemetery, our customers are choosing cremation. They might have a traditional funeral somewhere, but then they are choosing to have more of a celebration of life typically. When they come to the forest, they have a forest ceremony where we prepare the ashes.

We spread those ashes that are already mixed with soil in the right ratio so that they can break down and turn to nutrients for the tree over time. We spread those beneath the tree. By choosing that tree, they are helping to contribute to the purchase and permanent endowment and protection of that forest as a conservation area. The idea is that you are leaving the world a little bit more beautiful than you found it. You are also creating a place your family can come back to or most importantly, can think of you.

We started the company because when I was ten, my father died of a stroke. I had to go to the cemetery with my mom and buy a burial plot. A year later, my mom died of cancer. That place became the place that I always went back to. What I realized over time is it is very important to have a place to go back to. There will be moments in your life when you want to be near the person that you love.

The idea for Better Place came when I was at my parents’ grave on my mom’s birthday twenty years after she died in 2015. You just have those moments that you want to be there. More than those moments is the fact that when I think of my mom, I think of a black tombstone and their final resting place. There is no way not to think about that. A 19th-century philosopher made a point on it. As cemeteries were moving away from the religious tradition, they were asking the question, “Why do cemeteries exist? Why do they matter?”

He posed a good question. He said, “If your father gave you a pocket watch that he had carried for every day of his life. After he passed, would that pocket watch be different from any other pocket watch?” Almost everyone says, “Of course, it was his. He carried it with him.” Something there is different because it was his and he carried it for so many years. There is no way to say that the body does not have an equal level of significance.

CMBB 79 | Final Resting Place
Final Resting Place: People can be driven by different motivations around protecting nature.

A final resting place is important to people. That was the idea. That has not changed in 200 years. You need that place and think of that place. Ideally, in a great scenario, that place is beautiful with particularly spreading ashes on burials around trees. It is something about the fact that they live longer than 1, 2 or 3 human lives. For some reason, we are very connected to the concept of trees as a memorial.

I am reminded of a moment from my birthing journey with my first child. My midwife asked me afterward if I wanted to see the afterbirth. It might sound gory to you, but what she did is she held it up and said to me, “Do you see the tree?” It is this interesting moment where you are able to connect with and understand that at the moment of birth or even while you are growing in your parent, all of the blood vessels that surround this thing, that is feeding and providing you with all of the nourishment you would need throughout your entire early life existence, looks exactly like a tree with all the branches extending out.

We have to understand the Earth itself. It is like you are taking nourishment from the ground into the roots of the tree and creating something new. This is also offering us oxygen and a quiet place to spend time. A tree in itself is an entire ecosystem. Visiting a forest or trees can be a reverent experience, especially if you are going through something like the grieving of the loss of somebody that you wish you had the ability to connect with still now.

You can talk to the tree, even. It feels like it is almost an extension of something else that could be living. There is a natural flow for this. I also wonder what it is like for those who live in a big city area. If you are in Chicago or New York, you do not necessarily have a lot of open spaces outside of Central Park where you are not doing this forests to go and pay your respects to a loved one. Can we talk for a moment about proximity? How would you visit one of these forests if you were to lose somebody close to you and chose this path for them?

When we look to choose locations, we look for three things. The first is conservation value. We are looking for forests that are fairly healthy, or if they are not healthy, can be restored back to full health. The ecosystem is important. Sometimes that means their nature corridors. They are just particularly high risk for development, or they are particularly beautiful. We do err on the side of beauty because people can be driven by different motivations around protecting nature.

Some people use words like beauty. Some use capital and nature. It is different for different people and what their values are, whether they are coming from a religious or non-religious background. The second thing that we look for is proximity to where our customers live. We are typically looking for a 1 to 2-hour drive. It would be nice to be even closer, but we are focused on conservation value and beauty. That is not always possible near a major city.

The third is community. It is very important to us that the towns and areas we choose see Better Place as part of their long-standing community because these forests are going to be here in 200 and 300 years. We create large endowment funds that pay for the care and maintenance. This is something that we are creating that is going to be a part of this community for a long time. We want to be in communities that love that idea as well.

Litchfield Hills, Connecticut, has got a wonderful community. We bought the land from a landowner who was an arborist, and she’d been maintaining this land for more than 30 years. It was beautifully kept. It was amazing to see the letters of support we got from that community because they understood and loved this idea that we’re creating a place for their community that would always be protected, that would have this meaning and special kind of relationship to the town. That is always what we are looking for. It is that kind of connection.

The end of your life story is the thing that everyone who loves you will remember for the rest of their lives, and it can be more beautiful and more positive if you want it to.

You do not always find it. When we started Better Place Forests, I thought that everyone would think this idea was awesome and that they would go, “We want you to be our neighbor.” That is not the case. Permitting in modern America is extremely complicated. There is a reason we have a housing crisis. There is no other way to put it.

This is as far as easy no-brainer options go. I would think Better Place Forests is pretty much there. It is very low impact. Everything stays as a conservation area. It creates great tourism for the community. It is accessible for the community, and it is permanently protected with an endowment fund. Nonetheless, things can be political.

That is an interesting point. One of the things I am thinking about is a condo in Santa Cruz that I still own. It is across the street from a cemetery. When I went to put it on the market as a rental, there were often people who did not want to live across the street from a cemetery. I got this feedback from the management company that they were having trouble getting interested parties because looking out their window is a grassy meadow with trees and everything, with some old headstones from the late 1800s. They did not like seeing that out their windows. They did not want to live near it. I wonder if some of that community effect is coming into play, even though this might just be a forest with ashes spread into it.

It certainly can be. There is a taboo around cemeteries. American culture is particularly disinterested in talking about death more so than other cultures. It is very interesting to see how uncomfortable people can get. It is why you can see many people who do not think about this topic until it is a little bit late. It is one of the things that we talk about with Better Place Forests. I say, “What is the why of Better Place Forests?”

I like Simon Sinek’s Start With Why. Our why is that we are creating a conservation memorial forest. Our how is that we are buying beautiful conservation land often in partnership with land trusts. We are turning them into permanently protected, endowed, beautiful forests where people can access and walk through this forest.

We are going in and removing invasive species. We are putting in pathways to make them wheelchair-access vehicles accessible. Try making a forest ADA compliant. It is an interesting problem. No one has ever thought through that before. It was one of the problems we had to solve as Better Place Forests and we have sold it.

I am imagining paved and meandering paths through the forest.

We have certain beautiful stopping areas. We try to keep a minimum of concrete. We try to generally keep any permanent structure out of the forest if possible. When it comes to why we do this, one of the things you have to think about is that you are trying to get people to think about something completely new that they do not want to think about. Most people do not want to think about their death.

CMBB 79 | Final Resting Place
Final Resting Place: American culture is particularly disinterested in talking about death more so than other cultures.

We see those parents. They deeply want to take care of their children after they are gone. When they have to think about the details, that means they have to imagine a world where their child is living without them. That hurts twice. You are thinking about your death, but you are also thinking about this difficult situation for one of the human beings that you love most in the entire world. For a lot of people, when that is presented to them, the answer is, “I am not going to think about this.” If you can procrastinate, this is one of those things that is very high up on the “I would like to procrastinate about this” list.

I might be a little bit of an odd bird in this particular way because I think of the fact that I might create something that I feel comfortable with from a sustainability perspective, and where I also would provide my kids with a place to go and remember me. That was automatically getting into nature or being reverend. I thought for a long time that I would simply be cremated or have my husband’s and my ashes mixed and be dispersed together somewhere.

It is a romantic idea. Who knows what they will choose to do in the end, and if I will be able to go ahead and secure a plot of land where I am part of a forest or something to that effect before I pass. I am open to imagining it. Part of why I am open to imagine it is because I think about it as part of the cycle. This is something I have thought about since I was very young. What did they say? Nothing in life is sure but death and taxes. It is the things that you have to do.

You can’t get around. Nobody here gets out of life. If that is a reality, then why do we have such a hard time processing that or thinking about it? Why do we have such a hard time even talking about it with our loved ones so that they understand what our wishes would be? Through having these conversations, we are essentially normalizing that a little bit and inviting people to open up their imaginations to think about what they would want a little bit differently.

One of the things I have always had a hard time with is the fact that so many people are embalmed and then cremated as part of the processing. You have all the use of these chemicals. Why are we using the chemicals in the first place? What kind of pollution is resulting from that when we bury someone who has been embalmed in a cemetery? I was hoping that you could help educate our audience a little bit about that, and if you have any knowledge specifically about cremation and how it could be a more sustainable option than some others that are presently available to us.

I will answer the first part of thinking more broadly about funerals and about what you want for a funeral, embalming, burial and cremation. What’s important to think about is it’s the end of your story. No one is ever going to forget you dying. They will never forget your funeral and the image of your final resting place.

I once said that to someone in the opposite way, “You will always remember it,” and someone was very offended. They said, “That is not how I want to remember my parents.” I said, “I get that. I do not want to think of a tombstone. I want to think of my mom, but it is. There is no way to take that back. There is no way to change that.” These are the things that always will be there.

My father was a man who was a real character. He was a very strong personality. He got polio when he was ten years old. He went to the Olympics for swimming when he was eighteen because he did not need to use his legs much in long-distance swimming. He paved his way through law school, working as a Fuller Brush man. He was a very successful guy who lived a very considered life the way that he wanted to live. Everything was very particular to what he wanted except for the Advance Care Directive, which he did not do. He was a state lawyer. He wrote people’s wills for a living. This was a cobbler’s children have no shoes moment.

People have way more in common than they think they do. It’s time to stop thinking about where they’re different and start thinking of what they can do together to push forward for more change.

The end of his life was very hard. He had a stroke at his desk. He died of blood poisoning because they would not stop treating him and he did not want those treatments. He was pulling the feeding tubes. It was pretty clear he did not want to live the way he was going to live after a stroke. He said, “Stop treating me.” It was very hard. My mom, who was sick with cancer at the time, had to bring up the lawyers and talk about suing the hospital. It was very hard to see that. That is the end of your life story. It could have been so much better with a little bit more forethought.

That is the positive side that we have to get people to think about. The end of your life story is the thing that everyone who loves you is going to remember for the rest of their lives. It can be more beautiful and positive. Do you want to have a funeral where you are embalmed and in a casket there? If that is what you want, great. Maybe you want an after-party. Do you want people at your reception to serve finger sandwiches, those that are commonly at funerals? Is that not your style? Do you want a food truck with barbecue? It is you. You can do what you want.

Creating that moment is something that everyone who cares about is going to walk away for the rest of their lives. They feel a lot better because you did something that is you. At that moment when they most need you to feel connected and you are gone, giving them a path of things to do is a way they can feel connected to you.

I had a customer that was planning this through. I said, “What is your favorite?” He said, “I do not care. Whatever my kids want.” I said, “That is not what they want. Your kids want whatever you want because they do not know what they want. They have never dealt with their father dying before. Tell them something to do. What is your favorite food?” He was from New York. He goes, “That would be Costco cheese pizza, the best New York-style pizza you can get outside of New York.” I said, “Do you want Costco cheese pizzas at your funeral?” He said, “Yes.” I like that idea. That is fun. It is special and it is him.

I would not do that. I would probably have a bit more of a sit-down dinner but everybody is different. That is beautiful. On the environmental side, when it comes to embalming and things like that, the key thing to understand about embalming is to take the Jewish tradition versus the traditional Christian tradition in the United States. In the Jewish tradition, there is no embalming and the burial happens very quickly, but you typically sit Shivah for up to seven days afterward.

It is very well understood that some people are not going to make it for the burial. That is okay. No one is going to say, “It is unacceptable that you missed the burial. This was your father,” as long as you come and sit Shivah. In the Christian tradition, ever since the Civil War when they started embalming, the expectation is the body will be preserved and buried when everyone who needs to be there is there. I once went to a Greek Orthodox funeral that took about four and a half hours because every single attendee had to shake the family’s hand. That was different than I was expecting.

It was a big funeral so I did not know it takes that long. It was a sweltering day in Toronto. The key thing is to look at cultural traditions. Sometimes people are embalmed for preservation. That said, with modern refrigeration, that is not necessary unless you want an open casket. Open caskets are far less common nowadays. Many people specifically do not want them. Embalming is quite invasive. I would not want that done to my body. For some people, it is important and their kids want to see them one last time.

My uncle chose that. He wanted an Irish wake at his house with his body there where we can all drink his favorite drinks and eat his favorite food. It tends to be whatever you want is okay. It is a question of how we minimize that impact. There are better ways of doing cremation than traditional cremation like water cremation which is becoming more popular.

CMBB 79 | Final Resting Place
Final Resting Place: When you think about your death, you’re also thinking about this difficult situation for one of the human beings that you love most in the entire world.

That is much less intensive on the environment if you are comfortable with that. If you want to choose traditional cremation, buying the carbon offsets for that is also fairly straightforward. For Better Place, we plant 25 to 400-plus trees. The ultimate carbon impact of that is far more than a cremation would be. It is a very long answer to your short question.

I was thinking about a couple of things for my personal life as you shared this. I have been to a couple of funerals where people had chosen to be embalmed for a lot of the reasons that you mentioned. In one case, it was a friend who died of cancer. She was only 32. People had a hard time letting go. Another instance was a grandparent and there were some relatives who wanted to say goodbye and see them one last time.

For the most part, what I have seen in my community is cremation for a lot of practical reasons. It’s probably very similar to what we see in the Jewish tradition of, “We can take care of it and then pay our respects when we all feel ready.” That could be related to your job life, work life, school life, whatever stuff from your daily life. When my grandmother passed, we had her cremated and then traveled with her ashes to the East Coast.

That proved to be easier than transporting a body. If you start to take a body across state lines, there is a lot of paperwork. It was complicated enough to fly with her ashes. We were able to bury her ashes in the family plot. Because the family plot wasn’t extensive and large, the cemetery management company made a concession for us to be able to bury her in the same plot with both of her parents. That was part of our honoring her and also having a final resting place to consider family members as a whole unit.

That was an honorable and respectful way to go. That being said, it is still not perfect because you are talking about cremation. Often, you are talking about an immense use of energy to incinerate a body and the escape of carbon into the atmosphere. Crematoriums have systems where they are closed, so the carbon does not escape, but they still take an immense amount of energy to go through the cremation process.

One of the cool things that I have learned about what is more typical in the New Orleans area is that they have these mausoleums where essentially multiple generations of people can be buried in the same place. It is through the natural heat cycle of the planet. In summers, the bodies decompose within these mausoleums. They will only open a set every so often so that a new person can essentially be inserted.

The remaining bones are swept into the back or a trough so entire several generations of a family could exist in one small spot that you could always go to. This is something that is long of the past that we do not even think about anymore, but also may be part of where Anne Rice got her ideas with regard to writing her Vampire Chronicles, because it seems so Gothic and ancient like, “Was this even done anymore?” It seems something that we do not talk about.

That is a Spanish tradition as well. Muslim people will be put in a shroud often unembalmed. Their body will decay over time. Therefore, you can use more and more space. Eventually, it will fill up like an ossuary. Generally, that can be many generations. In traditional family plots, you used to keep burying in the same place. You were bearing people unembalmed in a pine coffin, and those broke down over time. With modern embalming and caskets, that stopped working. Since about the ‘50s, that has been prohibited, same as with urn burials and plots.

You need to think more holistically when you’re designing something. And if you do, you can create a much better product.

If you have a family plot that you purchased before the 1950s, it is fairly likely that it does not prohibit the burying of urns. If you have a plot that was purchased after about 1965, when cremation started being more popular, it is almost guaranteed that it is going to be prohibited. It is a bylaw. It is not a legal prohibition. There can be some negotiation with cemeteries but generally, it is going to be different. That change of embalming very much changed cemeteries from a place that could be used for many generations and kept reused to something that is truly permanent.

In Europe, on the other hand, you are mostly leasing a plot, and then they will remove your body. That is why there is an acropolis under Paris. You typically buy a burial plot for 25 years, and then the body is removed. There is an entire group of folks whose job is to remove any remaining organic matter that is not fully decayed off the bones. It is probably not the best job in the world. In Greece, the burials typically are for three years, and then they have to be removed. I would imagine that is a tough job. That is not the job you probably want.

In Greece, unless it was changed, cremation is illegal. There is a whole challenge there. Everything around death is important. There are a lot of taboos and traditions. It can be changing because traditions have changed so fast in the last 50 years. The cremation rate was under 4% in 1963. Now it is almost about 55% across the country. People who are younger are going to be choosing that at a higher rate.

Baby Boomers are expected to be cremated about 80%. The remaining twenty will probably come from a faith tradition where cremation is frowned upon. It is possible to be cremated in many traditions but it is not preferred. If you are Jewish or Muslim, it is not preferred. In certain faiths or sects within the faith, it is prohibited.

Let’s say in the case that someone chooses a final resting that is one of your Forests, where are you operating so that they could have their ashes mixed with some Earth and become part of that tree?

We have Forests throughout California in Mendocino, Santa Cruz, Central California, just outside Yosemite National Park. We have Forests in Lake Arrowhead outside of LA. In addition, we have got Forests in Minnesota, inside the Twin Cities, in Illinois, inside of Chicago, as well as Forests in Western Massachusetts and Connecticut. We are working on opening up more Forests throughout the country. We hear from everyone interestingly. If you had to guess which city in the United States has the highest preference for Better Place Forests, which one would you guess it is? It is Houston, Texas.

In 2020, Americans could not agree on much, but they all agreed that they liked Better Place Forests. We have very broad customers. It is quite interesting. Our customers are equally likely to vote Democrat or Republican. There are different reasons why people love nature. Everyone loves conservation and protecting it. Some of our customers want to protect capital in nature and be a part of nature. Others will say that the closest they were felt to God was in nature. In my view, as long as everyone agrees that they love nature, they want to be a part of it, protect it and create a place for their family, which is fabulous.

That speaks to me wanting to reach across the aisle constantly too. The reality is we all have way more in common than we think we do or politicians would have us believe. It is time that we stop thinking about where we are different and what we can do together to push forward for more change and do things like preserving forests around the globe and hopefully pushing for change in Greece too. When you told me 3 to 4 years that somebody is being unearthed there, it seems wasteful.

CMBB 79 | Final Resting Place
Final Resting Place: No one’s ever going to forget you dying. They will never forget your funeral and never forget the image of your final resting place.

It is a very specific tradition. You are going to have a tradition there more around ossuaries where it is similar to the Christian tradition. The key to understanding this is Europe had a much smaller continent, which had so many people for so many generations that their view of cemeteries is not of a permanent space. It is more of a permanent cemetery that is a temporary space for families. One of the ideas for Better Place Forests is I read a book that I like called Cradle to Cradle.

It was one of the first great books on the sustainable design movement. Cradle to Cradle makes the argument that you need to think more holistically when you are designing something. If you do, you can create a much better product. I totally think you can do that with companies. When you think about a problem, you look at the externalities and ask, “Can you fix them?”

Why don’t you explain what externalities are so that anybody that might not be familiar with the term can understand that too?

An externality is going to be a side effect of creating or selling your product. An example of an externality if you own a traditional farm is that you might have wastewater runoff. That is an externality. In the case of where this author was brought in, he was brought into a factory in Germany, which was a chemical factory. The village down the river was very angry about all of the waste that was being put into the river from the factory.

The externality of that business is that waste. He came in and proposed a change to their production process where he said, “What if we did not use river water? What if we added the last step to this process where we distill the waste and reuse that distilled water from the waste in our process?” What they found was it was a much more efficient process in the long run. It took some investment, but because they were constantly bringing in river water and the chemical composition that river water changed based on the seasons and rainfall, it got in the way of the production of the chemicals.

It was more efficient to create a closed-loop system. When you think about a business, you want to think about that. When we first came up with the idea for Better Place Forests, one of the things I was thinking about was the fact that cemeteries are interesting because they are permanent. You can never redevelop them. In the 50s, they used eminent domain. That is probably not going to happen again anywhere. Eminent domain is hard to use. It is very expensive and requires a certain level of societal cohesion that we do not currently have.

It is mostly used for building roadways at this point.

Very rarely. It is very tough politically to use. Cemeteries have a unique aspect, which is that when it is used, you tend to have to repay the families for the value of the plots. The value of those plots now is extremely high. It is usually not economical to move them. If you have a cemetery in Bondi Beach in Australia, that is on some of the world’s most valuable real estate. It is coastal and it is a gorgeous cemetery, but everyone was buried there 150 years ago.

Change is always with us; the question is, how do we turn it into something positive?

Our view was, “What if you can take this permanent concept of a cemetery and use it for conservation?” We created a conservation memorial forest. The other way to think about that is what if you could pay for conservation by attracting people who are already prepaying for something similar? You blend these two ideas. You take conservation and a final resting place, and you create a conservation memorial forest. You then have a business with an externality that is permanently protected land.

Essentially, what you are saying is the side effect is a positive thing. There are ways to even approach manufacturing where the alcohol you might use to extract nerves can be used over and over again so that you are not wasting it each time. You can then afford to go organic in the alcohol that you are using to extract nerves and things like that.

You can add more benefits to the entire process all the way around while producing less ways, while having less worry over leaching chemicals into groundwater, and things along those lines. It all leads to a more responsible overall business design. That is important for us to be talking about across the board, even as we are talking about this Cradle to Cradle concept or in this case, cradle to final resting place or grave.

When it comes to businesses and a show like yours need to ask that question, “How do you create positive externalities to your businesses?” For many businesses, there can be. When you are looking at real estate development, what people often do not realize is that when you do a good commercial development with great restaurants, bars and places for people to go, it improves your neighborhood. People often think, “I do not want that,” but your real estate value goes up because your neighborhood is nicer. Most people would like to be able to walk to something nice.

That happened in my neighborhood a little bit differently. I am in Santa Cruz County. Perhaps I will end up with my final resting place at Better Place Forests. The 1440 Multiversity took over what used to be Bethany College, which was a Christian college that had really fallen on worst times. It was essentially falling apart. They did not maintain the buildings. 1440 Multiversity came in, built a retreat and a continuing education center that looks like it belongs in the Alps or something along those lines. It is beautiful and has added to our local community.

People can take nice walks through the neighborhood now, and it feels more put together. It ultimately both improved our environment without making any eyesores. It actually removed eyesores. They will do things like some nice wind chimes blowing and a couple of fountains. You walk through these redwoods now and see these additive things that are quite pleasant to walk through in your own neighborhood. It is where I spend my mornings now.

It is too often people look at businesses or a change. They think about examples of a bad business or change they do not like. The answer is that change is always with us. How do we think about it and turn it into something positive? How do we look at this? I remember one of the things that impacted me a lot as a kid was in Canada, you’ve got Home Hardware. It is a franchise chain of hardware stores. There are different ways franchises make money. This particular one was the central distributor. Every Home Hardware buys only the products that they distribute.

In this particular store, I remember as a kid walking in, I noticed everyone who helped me was always mentally challenged. The owner had realized this was a very good way to create jobs for people who often can’t get jobs. As a little kid, I am going in and I was like, “The service is the friendliest it has ever been. Everyone is incredibly helpful. There is this energy from the store.”

CMBB 79 | Final Resting Place
Final Resting Place: Most people feel the closest to God in nature.

My uncle was in gold mining, which is very extractive, not good for the environment business typically. I made this argument. I was fifteen years old. This was a different time period. He is from a different generation. He was not super interested in the environmental side of things, but he did say something important. He said, “Sandy, of all the things I have done in my life, I started a company that employs 350 people. That is 350 families who have jobs, houses, good lives and meaning in their life. That is important.”

That is something that led me into entrepreneurship because it is true. How can you take that and combine it with what that Home Hardware did where those jobs are important to your community? You do not need to market it. The people who buy from you get that feeling. With Better Place Forests, we are incredibly lucky because our customers love it, which means our employees love working with our customers.

You get this beautiful energy and you get to recruit incredible talent because it is a virtuous cycle. People love working for a company where the customers are happy. Customers love buying from a company where the employees are happy and all of that. It is a lot easier when your product is something that is good for the world.

To that point, I believe you recruited a senior executive from Patagonia to join your company. That is a very responsible company. You are attracting people that are looking to make the world a better place through their work to the organization because they also have faith in the model. They think they can make a difference in this way.

It is important to think about building companies that are going to make a difference and help preserve our environments, and in this case, will support the regeneration of our forests. I love what you are doing. I would love to stay in touch as we continue forward because I imagine there will be new developments on the horizon. Perhaps we will even end up offering a solution in many of those European countries.

I hope so. We should have some new products. We will be announcing soon our memorial services that I am excited about as we help people plan their whole end-of-life experience. I would love to stay in touch. Thank you so much for having me on the show.

That is fantastic, Sandy. Thank you so much for joining me.

We have come to that point of the show. It is time for that simple ask. It does not have to be huge. It could be as simple as sharing this show with those in your community that could benefit from learning from it, or you could send people to investigate Better Place Forests. If there is anything that you are thinking about when it comes to this end-of-life journey, I invite you to stay curious. Think a little bit about what you would like that experience to be for your loved ones or for those that are close to you.

If you can choose a solution that is a little bit more kind for the planet, then that is probably a better one all around. Thank you, readers, now and always, for being a part of this show and community because together, we can do so much more. We can care more and we can be better. We can even regenerate the Earth with the support of things like Better Place Forests. Thank you.

 

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  • Sandy Gibson is the Founder of Better Place Forests, America's first conservation memorial forest. Instead of graves, Better Place Forests offers a sustainable alternative to cemeteries for families who choose cremation.

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